Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach

Nick Polutchko
Posted by Nick Polutchko
Updated on
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Published in Palm Beach

If you live in Florida, odds are you already know all of this. But, if you've never been here, then it’s common to confuse Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. The simple difference is that Palm Beach is the barrier island across the Intracoastal Waterway from West Palm Beach, which is part of mainland Florida. Now, there are several large differences between Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach, and it all started when the area was first developed by Henry Flagler. We’re going to try to start by quickly giving you some background on these differences, so if you’re looking for the modern-day differences, scroll down a bit. 

two images with titles, Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach

The Histories of Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach

When Henry Flagler came down to Florida from New York in the late 1800s, he had the goal of establishing a winter escape for wealthy northerners. With the completion of his railroad, Flagler began shaping the island of Palm Beach into America's First Resort Town. The Breakers and the Royal Poinciana were designed and began construction, and other wealthy people began buying property on the island. West Palm Beach, on the other hand, was developed as a service town to house the builders, construction crews, and support staff that helped establish and cater to the lavish lifestyles of Palm Beach's residents. West Palm provided the necessary infrastructure and workforce, gradually growing into a bustling city with its own unique culture and economy.

Geographical Differences Between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach

It's a little surprising how few people spend a couple of minutes with a map before visiting a place. Because within thirty seconds of looking at Google Maps, you'll have a decent understanding of the geographic differences between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. And yet, every day, there are still Facebook or Instagram posts of one of the beaches or restaurants on Palm Beach Island that are tagged as 'West Palm Beach, FL'. 

Palm Beach

The Town of Palm Beach is located on the barrier island, and is separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway. Palm Beach has about 16 miles of coastline, and water on three sides: the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Intracoastal to the West, and the Palm Beach Inlet to the North, which separates it from Singer Island, which is part of Riviera Beach. Palm Beach is known for its luxurious estates, pristine beaches, and high-end shopping. The population dwindles in the off-season (late May-December) and even during the season, is much smaller than West Palm Beach. 

West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach extends from the Intracoastal to the east, all the way out to Loxahatchee in the West, and from just south of Southern Boulevard (in some places) up to (part of) Northlake Boulevard in the North. West Palm Beach is an oddly shaped city, but in general, when people think of Downtown West Palm Beach, they think of the rectangle between Okeechobee Boulevard in the south to Banyan Boulevard in the north , and from the Intracoastal over to Tamarind Avenue. West Palm Beach is larger, more populous, and more diverse; it encompasses a mix of young professionals, families, and retirees, and it spans approximately 58 square miles. The city serves as the county seat of Palm Beach County.

Lifestyle and Culture

Palm Beach

It's what you've heard: the lifestyle in Palm Beach really is characterized by exclusivity and affluence. The area boasts world-class golf, hard-to-get-into clubs, and some of the most upscale dining. Worth Avenue, the famous shopping mecca, features high-end boutiques and designer stores. The cultural scene includes the Flagler Museum and the Society of the Four Arts, which offer a glimpse into the opulent past and vibrant arts scene of the island.

West Palm Beach

True to its roots, while also booming in wealth migration, West Palm Beach offers a more varied and accessible lifestyle. The downtown area is known for its lively nightlife, restaurants, and cultural attractions like the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. Clematis Street is chock-full of great bars and restaurants, lounges, and more. It's a great place to spend a night if you're looking for entertainment, with its trendy bars, eateries, and weekly events like Clematis by Night. The Norton Museum of Art, the South Florida Fairgrounds and Ampitheater, the Cox Science Center, and the Aquarium also contribute to the city's cultural vibrancy.

Real Estate and Cost of Living

Palm Beach

If you want a piece of the island, it's going to cost you: real estate in Palm Beach is among the most expensive in the United States. The market consists predominantly of luxurious single-family homes and condominiums. Properties often come with steep price tags, reflecting the area's desirability and exclusivity. The cost of living is obviously high, driven by expensive real estate, upscale amenities, and the market for those seeking the lavish lifestyle.

West Palm Beach

While West Palm can still get a little pricey, it also offers a broader range of housing options, especially compared to Palm Beach. From high-rise condominiums and historic neighborhoods to more affordable suburban areas, the West Palm market caters to various income levels. The cost of living is relatively lower than in Palm Beach, making some neighborhoods a much more accessible option for a wider demographic.

Attractions and Amenities

Palm Beach

It's been called the ultimate wintertime playground for the ultra-wealthy. Many of the most exclusive things to do in Palm Beach cater to the island's high-end clientele. The Breakers, a historic luxury hotel, epitomizes the area's grandeur. But there's still a public beach! Although, if you aren't walking or riding a bike over the bridges from West Palm, then be prepared to pay up for street parking, unless you want to struggle to find one of the free spots, walk a little, then have to move your car every couple hours to avoid getting a ticket. That being said, the public beach is meticulously maintained. Of course, most of the island's coastline is pretty much private for residents, since there's no parking along much of it. So if you're looking to have a quiet, exclusive stretch of sand and water, then it's definitely still possible. The area is also home to several prestigious golf courses and country clubs, including the Palm Beach Country Club. You could also become a member at The Breakers.

West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach offers a variety of attractions suitable for different tastes and budgets. There are always kid-friendly events going on, and there are a ton of family-friendly attractions. For starters, the West Palm Green Market is consistently ranked the best in the country! Then there are the typical attractions: the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society, Rapids Water Park, and the Mounts Botanical Garden provide good ways to entertain. For the adult crowd, the city also annually hosts several annual events, such as SunFest, one of South Florida's largest waterfront music and art festivals, and the Palm Beach International Boat Show. There are multiple private and public golf courses to choose from, the dining scene has something for everyone, the parks are outstanding, and there are many hobbyist or cultural groups that host various events all over the city.

Transportation and Accessibility

Palm Beach

Accessibility to Palm Beach is somewhat limited by its island geography. People drive pretty much everywhere. Unless you live close to the of couple streets full of restaurants, galleries, and shops, in which case you might walk some places. Palm Beach is mainly accessed by those who live off-island by driving over one of several bridges connecting to the mainland. Biking and electric scootering are becoming more popular as more people are moving into the condos and apartment buildings just over the bridges in West Palm. Public transportation is minimal.

West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach boasts better transportation infrastructure, including a comprehensive bus system, easy access to major highways, and even rides in low-cost, enclosed electric carts via Circuit. Just outside of downtown is Palm Beach International Airport, which is arguably one of the most convenient airports in all of Florida. Its direct flights are pretty limited to the East Coast, but it's almost always quick and painless getting in and out. If you have your own private plane or have a membership to fly private, then PBI is one of the best places to fly in and out of as well. Additionally, the Brightline high-speed rail connects West Palm Beach to Orland and Miami with West Palm in the middle.

Community and Social Environment

Palm Beach

Known for its exclusivity, the social environment in Palm Beach is often somewhat insular. It's no surprise, since the community is made up of many ultra-high-net-worth individuals, celebrities, and those somewhere in-between, and this leads to a focus on privacy and security. Social life revolves around private clubs, charity galas, and invitation-only events. If you want in, it'll cost you continually, but if being part of the crowd is important to you, then Palm Beach has some great options.

West Palm Beach

There's something for everyone in West Palm. With people coming from all over, and a range of young professionals, families, and retirees, there is a large focus on fostering a vibrant and active community. The city itself, along with places like Cityplace, host numerous public events, festivals, and markets that encourage community engagement. The social scene is dynamic, with plenty of opportunities for networking and socializing across different demographics. If you're looking for variety in life, then West Palm is an outstanding place to be.

Education and Healthcare

Palm Beach

Since it's such a small island with an even smaller year-round population, it's understandable that the educational facilities in Palm Beach are limited, primarily consisting of a couple of private schools and academies that cater to the elite. Additionally, the island itself doesn't have its own major hospitals, so it relies on those in West Palm, or the other facilities in northern or southern Palm Beach County for advanced medical services.

West Palm Beach

West Palm Beach offers a wide range of educational institutions: from some of the best and highest-ranked public schools in the state, to renowned private and charter schools. West Palm also has Palm Beach Atlantic University, although the students can often be found just over the bridge at the public beach on the island. Hospitals like Good Samaritan, JFK, and St. Mary's, along with many specialist campuses provide myriad options for healthcare.

Palm Beach vs West Palm Beach: Visit Both!

Alright, so here's the bottom line: if you're thinking of buying a home in the area, and you're looking for exclusivity, status, and lavishness, then start your search on Palm Beach Island. If you're looking for more casual luxury, more space, and more variety, then look in West Palm. Either way, if you live in one you can eat, drink, shop, relax, and enjoy the other. Living in West Palm provides easy access to Palm Beach, as well as the other way around. Each offers distinctly different experiences. 

Whether you're looking for a waterfront condo, an opulent estate, a little winter golf retreat, or anything in between, we have agents who specialize in each lifestyle and community. Reach out to us today and we'll be happy to walk you through all of the little details that may impact your decision. 

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